It’s time for Mike Maccagnan to deliver on plan he sold Jets

Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan convinced CEO Christopher Johnson to keep him after a third straight losing season in December. Even as Johnson was preparing a pink slip for coach Todd Bowles, Maccagnan sold Johnson on his plan to put the organization on the right path.

Now, the pressure to deliver on that plan is on.

There is no question about the temperature of Maccagnan’s seat entering 2019. It is a notch below the surface of the sun.

Maccagnan will open free agency’s negotiating period Monday afternoon armed with plenty of salary cap space and more holes on his roster than Jussie Smollett had in his story.

This is a defining moment for Maccagnan, who is 24-40 in his time as the Jets’ GM. To put it simply, he is out of chances. If he does not deliver this offseason, he will be looking for work next offseason.

But free agency is a tricky game for general managers and Maccagnan must navigate this deftly. It is simple for fans and media members to look at a list of names and pick out all the best ones the Jets should sign like you’re ordering off a menu. Give me Le’Veon Bell from column A, Trey Flowers from column B and I’ll finish it off with the best offensive linemen you have.

In reality, free agents are free agents for a reason. The teams that know them best have cast them aside. Sometimes it is age, sometimes it is injuries, sometimes it is a lack of production. But there is always a reason they become free.

Maccagnan should know this as well as anyone. His big free-agent signings have blown up in his face more than once. Darrelle Revis grabbed some headlines for the Jets in 2015, but was a shell of his former self. The Ryan Fitzpatrick re-signing was a mess. Even signing one of their own — Muhammad Wilkerson to a five-year, $86 million deal left Maccagnan looking bad.

Last season, Maccagnan gave cornerback Trumaine Johnson a five-year, $72.5 million contract. Johnson gave up several huge plays, committed a few awful penalties and failed to show up for work in Week 17. Let’s just say the early returns on that signing are troubling.

This year is a test to see if Maccagnan has learned from his mistakes. Signing the best cornerback available like Johnson does not mean you are getting a player worth the money he commands in free agency. Prices get inflated when you have desperate teams trying to plug holes.

The best teams draft well, develop those players and supplement through free agency. Maccagnan has not drafted all that well either, which is why fans expect a spending spree this week.

Maccagnan’s best free agent deals have been the second-tier free agents he has signed. James Carpenter (4 years, $19.1 million), Steve McLendon (3 years, $10.5 million), Kelvin Beachum (3 years, $24 million) and Avery Williamson (3 years, $22.5 million) have all been valuable signings by Maccagnan.

This is what fans, and especially Maccagnan, must keep in mind this week. Being “aggressive” in free agency as Maccagnan has said the Jets will be is not as important as being smart about free agency.

The Jets have $83 million in salary cap space, according to overthecap.com, after agreeing to the trade for guard Kelechi Osemele on Sunday. That sounds like a lot until you consider the Jets need to replace a third of their roster. They have a league-high 25 free agents. They also need to stash some of that money for their draft picks and for in-season pickups.

If Maccagnan is smart, he will stay in the Le’Veon Bell sweepstakes only until the price tag climbs above $14 million per season. He will concentrate on fixing his offensive line [Osemele was a good start], adding a pass rusher and finding a cornerback. But that does not mean spending crazy money on every top free agent. Maccagnan must do his damage in that second tier where value can be found. Add one or two big names, but build the locker room for Adam Gase through free agency’s middle class and the draft.

Maccagnan can’t afford to get this wrong or there will be no convincing Johnson to keep him this December.

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